I have avoided writing about this topic. Avoided it like it’s a furious fire, ready to burn my fingertips if I even broach it. But really, how can I avoid it? I am a writer. We write about what’s going on in our lives, whether that’s published as memoirs, on a social media post, scribbled down into a private journal, or weaved into a fantastic storyline.
But this, what is happening in the world, is far from fantastic.
What I’m going to say next is shocking. So here goes. When this pandemic began, it didn’t really affect my life. It wasn’t because I thought “it won’t happen to me”. Rather, it’s because I live in a bubble. I live in a small community on the east coast of Tasmania (you know, that small island at the bottom of Australia. The one that’s often left off of maps, but is now the place people are flocking to, because it’s the safest part of Australia at the moment.) Most people who live in my community are retired, and when the pandemic hit, so did winter. Everyone sequestered themselves to their houses, picked up their knitting or crosswords, and sat in front of their fires to wait it out. The tourists and holiday house owners were told, in no uncertain terms by our government, to stay the hell away.
But this pandemic affected other people. My family. My friends. My larger community. Even my professional world became affected. While logistics are one thing, how it affects your mental health is another. Social media, watching the news, hearing from family and friends, that’s when everything screeched to a halt for me.
Not being to get to my daughter on the mainland, when she struggled, was my first reality check. Hearing about friends losing friends or loved ones. That was the second reality check. Keep busy, I told myself. Stay distracted.
I was not dealing with the struggles of others. I took in their emotional pain. I struggled to find rhyme or reason to what was happening. I screamed at the television when people weren’t taking this thing seriously. I would get upset when I saw anyone outside during lockdown. My stress level was so high I worried about my physical health. My mental health was already in the toilet.
But I realised, despite my angst, I was not dealing with what so many others faced. I was not dealing with remote learning. I was not dealing with a shortage of necessities (miraculously!). I wasn’t deal with riots in my neighbourhood. Nor was I dealing with elderly parents or, god forbid, having parents in aged care facilities. The only thing I was dealing with not being physically there for people. And believe me when I say, not being able to hug my child and protect her from his horrible thing, has been incredibly hard. (Thankfully my daughter has adapted and grown stronger and even more independent because of this thing.)
When the pandemic began, I was neck-deep in writing a fictional book about the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage experience. I questioned whether I should finish writing this book. How could I write about this positive life experience, about the strength of relationships, the freedoms of taking a long walk, about how it can affect the rest of people’s lives in such a profound manner? How can I write about that, when so many are facing homelessness, loss of jobs, strains on their family as they quarantine together for weeks on end? It just seemed wrong. So I stopped writing, and I spiraled further into an abyss of hopelessness. Add in American politics and I was an absolute goner for a while. Despite everything I had: the safety, the environment, a simple way of life, I could not help those I loved the most.
Then I remembered the whole concept of my book was about relationships and communication. Listening, telling stories, hearing what someone has to say, even if they aren’t using the specific words to express exactly what they mean. I stopped everything I was doing and reached out to my inner circle. They still needed my support. I may not have the same circumstances, but I could be there to support them, just differently. I made sure they knew that while I may be half a world away, or on an inaccessible island, I was still here listening, no matter what they want came out of their mouths. Some took me up on the offer, most rowed through it, feeling many were in the same boat, or that their boat was moving forward just fine.
This pandemic is something few of us have experienced and it’s rocked our modern world completely. I feel, at my very core, that this results from Mother Nature throwing down her gauntlet for us all to wake the fuck up and see what a shitshow we are in. Climate Change. Politics. Materialism. It’s bad now. But it was bad before. With this pandemic, it has forced us to pop our own bubbles and understand what is important in our life: People. Relationships. It’s not the things we possess and certainly not our busy schedules.
Life can be simple. We can be happy. How?
Like a Camino wander, we just have to strip life back to the basics.
We will get through this pandemic. Life will be better for it. I mean, it has to be, right?